I hate visiting Nana. All she ever talks about is the past. She’s so miserable that she’s actually become a depressant, and infects those around her with the same affliction. I’m glad I only have to see her once a week, since we put her in the virtual nursing home. I dread to think what she gets up to all day. On my last visit I interrupted her playing chess against seven topless men.
“Kids today,” she says. “They have no idea what it was like for me growing up.”
“Nan, you’re 5,000 years old, of course we don’t.”
“That’s no excuse Muriel Jenkins and you know it. You whine and curse about visiting me like it’s the worst thing anyone’s ever had to do. But you have no idea what I’ve been through. When I was your age aliens invaded Earth and wiped out all of humanity.”
“If they wiped out humanity then what am I?” I asked.
“An alien of course.”
We are living in the afternoon of the universe. Human society (or alien society according to Nana) has progressed to the point where everything is easy. Unless you’re poor or disabled or a robot – those people face the same problems they’ve faced since the morning of time, since the universe was the size of a small grapefruit. Whenever I feel sad about this I eat an instaburger or upload a pleasant memory into my braindrive. Sometimes all I need is to marvel at today’s wonders, like bags-for-life that take themselves to the supermarket when you forget them, and jeans that heal themselves when they rip. Or I go to the arcade to shoot fake humans – that always calms me down.
My nan’s had most of her limbs replaced over the years and even her brain at one point. When we got her a new body we congratulated each other because we’d fixed our nana. Then when we replaced her head we wondered if we now had an entirely new nana. Sometimes she complains that her new eyebrows are evil and once belonged to a woman who was a serial killer by day and a parking attendant by night. That’s why she flies into a murderous rage when she sees people parked on zigzags. Or maybe it’s time to replace her brain again. There’s no way to broach this with her because she’s always talking.
“I’m lonely,” she says. “No nursing home, however realistic and interactive, can ever solve that. I need a man!”
“You can’t have a man,” I tell her.
“You don’t need to tell me that Muriel Jenkins, I was there when the last male died. I remember his last words. He said that he loved me more than any of his actual wives. Of course, he was but a shadow of the true men of our species. Centuries of scientific conservation had diminished their height, lustre and even lifespan. I remember real men – tall, hairy, strong. Men were great. So don’t you lecture me young lady.”
“Nan, I know what men are. I’ve read about them on the internet.”
“I don’t want to know what you do in your spare time, deary. Now have another cup of tea.”
Nan would force-feed me tea until my oesophagus had to volunteer as a second stomach. I couldn’t lean too far forward lest a neck of tea spill out in front of me.
“Oh to be so full of life, and tea,” says Nana.
“Don’t worry,” I say. “Growing old is mandatory but growing up is optional.”
“Forget that, I’m going to grow young again.”
I didn’t doubt her.
Suddenly I was dreaming. I must have fallen asleep. I was dreaming about Nana, about her whole life. All 5,000 years of it. I was a young girl running through the green English forests. There were wolves and hogs, and red squirrels, and men with long beards, and people building piles of rocks. We travelled across the ocean on boats of wood, saw men fight with swords and spears. I migrated until the climates got warmer, crossed deserts, climbed mountains, got caught in monsoons and turned brown in the hot sun. I met Siddhartha Gautama who divulged the truth of the universe. Later, Jesus Christ, who bravely spoke out against the evil world we had built. I saw kingdoms fall and people slaughtered. Machinery crept into our lives and was soon controlling the entire infrastructure. Aliens came and earths were scorched and minds were married and robots maintained our increasingly intricate society. And new life appeared and stars supernova’dand jellyfish flew through the skies and video games became more real than the universe.
And it all led here to this moment, sitting in my nursing home, shaking off the drowsiness, looking down at the empty teacup I’d spiked to knock her out, admiring my new young body with its smooth skin and strong fingers. My personality was nearly uploaded, along with 5,000 years’ worth of memories.
Muriel Jenkins will be fine. Her brain pattern is quite safe, floating above us somewhere up there, until I decide where to put it.
Kids today. They have it so easy, but they won’t believe it.
Probert Dean is a short story writer, musician, composer, cineaste, occasional actor and compulsive list-maker from Liverpool.
He is currently workingonsurreal satirical science fiction stories and overseeing his experimental music ensemble; Unstoppable Sweeties Show. On his days off Probert likes to work part time in an office.